Here’s another installment from the colorful world of risotto. Last week we featured green risotto, this week it’s black risotto, made with cuttlefish and its ink.
The technique for this risotto recipe is a bit different from the more usual one, in that you don’t begin by toasting the rice but rather braising the cuttlefish (or, squid, if you can’t find cuttlefish). But before you start cooking, if your mollusk is not pre-cleaned, you will need to clean it, making sure to carefully remove and reserve the ink sacs (see below).
Now, make a soffritto of finely chopped onion and garlic, sautéed in olive oil. When the onion is soft and translucent, add your cuttlefish or squid (one small one or half a large one per person), which you will have chopped into little squares or sliced into thin strips, as you prefer. When the fish has turned opaque, add enough white wine to almost cover the fish and, if you like, a spoonful or two of passata di pomodoro (tomato purée) and/or a bit of peperoncino and/or some finely chopped parsley. Let the whole thing simmer until the fish is just about tender, which should take about 30-45 minutes depending on the type and age of the mollusk you are using. Then add the ink—if you’ve cleaned the cuttlefish or squid yourself, use the ink from the reserved ink sacs or, if using cleaned squid, about a sachet of store-bought ink per serving—and stir so that it is fully incorporated into the liquid, forming a smooth sort of black ragù.
Add rice, stir to mix well, and simmer until the rice has absorbed the black liquid. Now proceed as you would for any risotto, adding ladlefuls of broth, one at a time, adding more broth only as the previous ladle has been absorbed. Fish or vegetable broth do best, but you can use chicken broth in a pinch, or even water. When the rice is done, remove it from the heat, add some more parsley if you like, and stir it vigorously as you would to mantecare any risotto. Add a dab of butter if you must but do not add grated cheese. Serve hot, topped with a bit of parsley if you like.
NOTES: This risotto is traditionally made with seppia, or cuttlefish, and the ink from the ink sacs that you carefully reserve when you clean it. Cuttlefish can be hard to find, and squid is a perfectly acceptable substitute. You clean both mollusks in the same basic way. Here’s an excellent instructions video from the Rouxbe Online Cooking School:
In the US and perhaps elsewhere, most squid is sold pre-cleaned (which is to say, with the skin, internal cartilage and viscera (including the ink sac) removed. But nero di seppia (cuttlefish ink) is sold in small sachets in some specialty stores. They are also available online, sometimes under its Spanish name, tinta de calamar. Be careful handling the ink, as it really stains—which is perhaps why it was used as a dye and also as actual ink for writing in classical times. And, as you may have guessed by now, the English word ‘sepia’ comes from the Italian word for this same reason.
The dish takes rather longer than your usual risotto because of the initial braising, but the dish lends itself very well to pressure cooking. The cuttlefish or squid will take about 15 minutes under pressure. Then release it, add ink, then the rice and broth, and bring up to pressure again for another 5 minutes.
For tips on the best types of rice to use, see my post on the ABCs of Making Risotto. This dish being of Venetian origin, a vialone nano would probably be the best choice, but tonight I used carnaroli and it was very good indeed.
There are a few, but rather limited, variations on this dish. The most important being when you add the ink. Personally, I prefer to add it at the beginning, to ensure that it fully penetrates the rice, but some recipes call for adding it towards the end of cooking. One interesting variant recipe calls for making your squid or cuttlefish ‘black ragù’, then proceeding to make a risotto in bianco in the usual manner, in a separate pot, and adding the ragù to the risotto only towards the end of cooking.
The black ragù, by the way, makes a fine dressing for linguine, spaghetti or, for a Venetian treat, bigoli.